By Emma Regan, Ella O’Neill and Jordan Maxwell Ridgway
This week the alternative publishing team is exploring the culture of self-publishing in Japan. Whilst self-publishing is growing in the West as a viable means for some writers to begin their careers, in Japan self-publishing has been a relatively common practice for some time.
This may be because in Japan they have something called doujinshi, which can be translated as fanzines, which refers to self-published works such as magazines, novels and, in particular, manga. Doujinshi (doujins for short) can be considered as a form of fanfiction, as the works are often derivative of original intellectual property and usually produced without permission from the original IP’s creator.
It’s a great space for emerging artists to cut their teeth and find their voice, as well as build in confidence and potentially a fanbase, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a space for self-published original work in Japan either. Sometimes professional writers will publish doujinshi as a means of publishing outside of their industry.
Self-publishing has always stood in the shadow of larger corporations with the entirety of their funding, their marketing teams and distribution channels. Writers begin on the back foot which unfairly minimises opportunities for those who are unknown, focusing on niche subjects or more local subject matters. Whilst the chances for promotion are more limited because the writer is solely responsible for broadcasting their work, they can write exactly what they want.
In a sense, as a result of this potentially limited market, that self-published work is seen more as an artistic expression than commercially viable book. Since paper and physical copies are more popular in Japan, the buyer is purchasing an artefact that can be put on display, not just a consumerist product. As such, events like the Tokyo Art Book Fair have taken off, and in this vein journalist Ben Davis notes that it is just as likely for you to head home with a pile of books as a list of artists and venues to explore.
Yet self-publishing appears to be growing fast, and globally. Earlier in August this year it was announced that the Japanese publishing company Shueisha partnered up with MediBang, a mobile app company dedicated to illustration and manga creation software, and launched a new platform called Manga Plus Creators so that anyone can publish their manga online for free. Users can publish their work in English or Spanish, in order to reach a wider fanbase. This also speaks to the growing international fandom and popularity for all things Japan and anime.
Bookstores are now more willing to dedicate large amounts of space to zines and self-published works which in turn act as centres of local communities and organisations. They carve out spaces, such as Daikanyama T-site, where marginalised voices, unheard thoughts and alternative opinions can flourish and it's through this opening up that ideas mesh and interact between authors’ works, crafting new concepts and reflections against the mainstream. Harajuku, one of the most iconic places for popular culture in Tokyo also hosts a range of bookstores dedicated to the world of doujins.
However, whilst it can be argued that this phenomenon has evolved out of fanzines in anime culture, others maintain that authors have to self-publish because “if you’re not writing about Japan and you live in Japan, it seems that a lot of publishers and agents aren’t interested.” Many other businesses have capitalised on the disinterest, like online print-on-demand service Lulu, which will produce a short run of books for you. Authors are likely to struggle with making the book available in Japan due to the shipping costs. Local booksellers and distributors will also want a discount for handling the book and that doesn't leave much for the author. An alternative is a kojin jigyoo; this entails setting up your own business which turns a solo author into a small independent publisher, which attributes more authority.
Despite this, doujinshi fairs now have international acclaim and have people all over the world visiting Japan to either promote or buy doujinshis. Comiket is the largest non-profit fan convention in the world and is primarily focused on selling self-published works. Approximately 35,000 circles (a term for groups or individuals who create doujins) gather each year to sell their works to the public, gaining half a million attendees each time. In recent years, Comicket has gained international creators and fans attending the event. It is held twice every year and spread out over three days.
There are also international doujin conventions. Doujin Market in Singapore is Singapore’s largest pop culture inspired youth arts convention, which has accumulated over 77,000 visitors in the last six years. It celebrates communities passionate about creating original and fan works as well as their aspirations for self-publishing. Both Comiket and Doujin Market also support doujin soft, a derivative of doujinshis that focus on other media such as self-published music and gaming.
Do you think self-published book fairs could potentially catch on in the West? Or should it stay celebrated as part of the culture in the East?